While the nation’s capital experiences a severe crisis of a lack of safe, healthy, truly affordable housing, the DC Council Committee on Human Services is considering a set of amendments to the Homeless Services Reform Act (HSRA) put forth by the Bowser administration. We believe that any amendments to the HSRA should be evaluated through the lens of our values as a progressive city. We believe that the bill as introduced fundamentally fails to live up to these values.

Councilmember Brianne Nadaeu, who chairs the Committee and has oversight of the Department of Human Services (DHS), presided over a mid-June public hearing on the Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act of 2017. Councilmember Nadaeu heard individuals directly impacted by the HSRA, civil legal aid attorneys, social services providers, and advocacy organizations describe the impact these changes would have on the lives of those who are forced by a housing crisis to seek help from the DC homeless services system. The Committee intends to make changes and move the bill forward when the DC Council returns from recess next month.

We’ve worked with our partners and allies to develop specific legislative language reflective of our values. In the coming weeks, we will share these perspectives with you. Today, we want to share what we believe some of these values to be, and excerpts from testimony that sheds light on the disconnect between our values and the proposed bill.

We are a sanctuary city, a welcoming city to all those in need.

Every person in DC who has no safe place to sleep at night should have

access to safe, humane shelter, unfettered by bureaucratic hurdles.

Enactment of the proposed HSRA Amendments will have a devastating impact on DC residents with disabilities who are homeless and at risk of homelessness. Instead of increasing their access to housing, the HSRA Amendments arbitrarily excludes groups of homeless individuals and families from eligibility and creates significant barriers blocking their access to services.

Disability Rights DC

 

The consequences of turning a person in need of assistance away from services can be dire… this bill makes it harder for those seeking services to prove District residency, forces applicants in crisis to meet an unrealistically high standard in showing that they have nowhere else to go, and gives the executive branch broad power to review and re-determine eligibility for services without adequate review of eligibility decisions.

Damon King, Legal Aid Society of DC

 

Rather than making DC’s Continuum of Care more accessible and responsive to the needs of domestic violence victims and their families, these provisions would make it harder – and more dangerous – for victims.

DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence

 

We are a Human Rights City. We value individual rights and the U.S. Constitution.

Residents of shelter and housing programs deserve due process and fair, transparent policies.

 

The Mayor’s proposed changes do away with due process protections that exist in current law, and place significant discretion in the hands of agency officials and providers who may be susceptible to applying their discretion in arbitrary or discriminatory ways.

Nassim Moshiree, ACLU DC

 

We have serious concerns about many portions of the proposed bill which we think would fundamentally change the philosophy of our shelter system by closing the door on many at-risk DC residents and by depriving them of impartial due process to challenge DHS decisions. Broadly, we are concerned that provisions in this bill shut the door to safe shelter for too many vulnerable youth and families.

Kathy Zeisel, Children’s Law Center

 

We are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis that

DC government has a responsibility to remedy.

The root cause of homelessness, lack of affordable housing, cannot be solved by

narrowing the front door to shelter or by imposing arbitrary time limits on housing.

 

The proposed legislation does little to address the lack of affordable housing or the lack of living wage jobs—the two most direct causes of homelessness amongst D.C. families. Rather, the bill attempts to resolve the family homelessness crisis by closing the front door to shelter, making it more difficult for families to prove their eligibility for and access to emergency shelter when they need it. It is quite clear that this will result in less families entering shelters, but it will not result in decreasing the number of homeless families in the District. At best, it is a band-aid approach to the rising crisis of family homelessness and at worst, will exacerbate the crisis by making access to services and early intervention more challenging for needy families.

Marta Beresin, Break the Cycle

 

In more than 15 years of working with families and individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, I have never met someone who wants to go to shelter or remain in shelter when they have somewhere else safe to be. More than 18,000 households in DC pay 80-100% of their income in rent and limit their food and healthcare expenses rather than enter shelter. Making it harder to enter shelter and easier to be terminated from shelter simply is not the answer. More affordable housing is the answer.

Lori Leibowitz, Neighborhood Legal Services program

 

We have learned from long experience that the road to personal and financial independence for individuals and families, long living in extreme poverty, is lengthy and rough, with many starts and stops.  RRH time limits set many families up for failure at the outset with demands that they be self-sufficient in 12 months or lose their homes.  A safety net can’t have rigid time-limits in a world where people’s needs and the challenges they face do not, and may never, fit a neat pattern. 

Rabbi Gerry Serotta, InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (IFC)

 

DC, aka “Chocolate City,” has a strong, proud history of Black leadership and institutions.

We cannot support policies rooted in anti-black, anti-poor stereotypes and myths.

 

These sections codify the myths that there are significant numbers of people in shelters who do not actually need shelter services, or who are somehow ‘gaming the system’ to access housing programs, and that there are significant numbers of people flooding our shelters from other jurisdictions to get access to our housing programs. No data supports these myths.

Amber W. Harding, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

 

According to Ben Carson, to be compassionate means that we should not be giving people in shelter “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.” According to Carson, “poverty to a large extent is.. a state of mind.” These two statements are an affront to everything we at FBC believe are “DC Values.” They completely miss the underlying causes of homelessness and of poverty. However, I can’t help but see Dr. Carson’s assumptions about poor people motivating these legislative changes. Are these really our DC Values, or are they the values of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave?

Monica Kamen, Fair Budget Coalition

 

Stay tuned for spotlights on different parts of the legislation, stories from affected community members and ways to get involved in this advocacy.